An April Almanac
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on April 6, 2011. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
April is one of four months containing 30 days -- the others, as you no doubt remember from the old “Thirty Days Hath September” rhyme, are June, September and November. The name April, from the Latin "aprilis," is of uncertain origin. It may derive from the Latin “aperire,” meaning “to open,” and refer to the opening of buds on trees and flowers in the spring. Another possibility is that “aprilis” stems from “aphrilis,” revealing a connection to the goddess of love Aphrodite or Venus, whose festival was celebrated on April 1.
For the Anglo-Saxons, April was Oster-monath or Eostur-monath, named for Eostre or Ostara, a goddess of springtime and fertility. This divinity probably goes back even further to a goddess of the dawn (also the derivation of our word “east”). According to the 8th century English monk and historian Bede, Anglo-Saxons newly converted to Christianity simply transferred the familiar name Easter to their observance of the mass of Christ’s resurrection.
“April is a promise that May is bound to keep.”
~ Hal Borland
April Fools’ Day
The first day of the month is commonly celebrated as April Fools’ Day, or All Fools’ Day, a day marked by silliness and practical jokes. The origin of the observance of a day dedicated to jokes and tricks is something of a mystery. One explanation is that people in France, until the 1500s, observed their New Year celebration in spring. Because word of the calendar change reached those in rural areas only slowly, those who still continued to celebrate in April were called “April fools.” Alex Boese, the curator of The Museum of Hoaxes in San Diego, believes that it is far more likely that April Fools’ Day grew out of traditional springtime celebrations of renewal, which included good-natured tricks, role reversal and disguises. In France, a person who is fooled on April 1st is tagged a "poisson d'Avril," literally an April fish.
Easter and Easter Symbols
Easter, the Christian church’s celebration of Christ’s resurrection, is observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after March 21. Although it sometimes falls in March, Easter most often occurs in April. Easter is linked to Passover, a Jewish holy day commemorating the story of Exodus -- in fact, the Latin name for Easter, "Pascha," derives from the Hebrew name for the Passover festival, "Pesach." Despite the fact that Easter is a religious holiday, the rabbits and eggs we associate with the season are ancient symbols of fertility dating to pagan celebrations of springtime.
People have decorated eggs for Easter since as least the 13th century. One possible reason is that eggs were once forbidden during the Lenten season of penitence and fasting, so people painted them to eat on Easter morning. The tradition of an Easter rabbit or hare who delivers decorated eggs on Easter morning came to America with Germans who immigrated to Pennsylvania in the 1700s. Each spring, children of these "Pennsylvania Dutch" anticipated a visit from the “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws” by making nests for the creature’s colored eggs. As the practice gained wider acceptance, the nests were replaced with baskets, the gifts left behind came to include candy, and the hare became the Easter bunny.
“...proud pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Arbor Day, a day set aside for tree planting, is observed as a national holiday on the last Friday of April in the U.S.; each state celebrates its own observance, with dates intended to coincide with optimum tree-planting weather. First held on April 10, 1872, Arbor Day was the brainchild of Julius Sterling Morton, a Nebraska editor and agriculturist who wished to encourage individuals and school and civic organizations to plant trees. Julius Morton’s son, Joy Morton, founded the Morton Salt Company and later established the Morton Arboretum, a Chicago-area living history museum with over 4,000 different types of trees.
First observed on April 22, 1970, Earth Day is often considered the starting point of the modern environmental movement. Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking 1962 work “Silent Spring” had sounded an alarm about the dangers caused by thoughtless use of pesticides and disposal of toxins into our food and water supplies. Hoping to inspire increased environmental awareness, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson proposed a nation-wide “teach-in” on college campuses. Remarkably, a loosely-organized grassroots campaign led to Earth Day observances throughout the country, attended by millions of Americans. The first Earth Day prompted the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts, according to the Earth Day Network’s website. Today people around the globe participate in Earth Day events, and many communities have turned the day into a week-long observance.
April’s birthstone, the diamond, is a symbol of innocence. Diamond rings are also a popular token of affection, symbolizing betrothal. The word diamond derives from the Greek “adamastos,” meaning “invincible.” Historically, the stone was believed to possess supernatural powers, and many regard the diamond as the ultimate gemstone. A diamond is the hardest substance on earth, and can be scratched only by another diamond. It is renowned for its clarity, remaining transparent over a larger range of the spectrum than any other substance. The diamond has a high rate of refraction and optical dispersion, which is the source of the stone’s fire and sparkle. Most diamonds used as gemstones are transparent or “white,” but diamonds naturally occur in every color.
| ||Sweet Pea|
The traditional April birth flower is the sweet pea, or Lathyrus odoratus, an annual climber native to the eastern Mediterranean. Cultivated since the 17th century, the plant began attracting attention in the mid-1800s when Henry Eckford, an English nurseryman of Scottish descent, undertook a breeding program resulting in dozens of cultivars with larger and more colorful flowers. Sweet peas reached their height of popularity in Victorian times, when in the language of flowers, they indicated "blissful pleasure." Sweet peas like a rich, moist soil, and will happily twine their way up a trellis or other support, attaining a height of 6 1/2 feet. The delicate petals of the sweet pea are available in a wide variety of both deep and pastel shades, including bi-colors, and are renowned for their sweet fragrance. The perennial sweet pea, Lathyrus latifolius, features pretty but scentless pinkish-purple flowers.
The alternate flower symbol for the month of April is the daisy, symbol of innocence and purity. The name daisy can refer to numerous members of the aster family, but Bellis perennis, a European daisy which has become naturalized in North America, is the quintessential daisy, having white ray flowers surrounding a densely-packed button of bright yellow florets. The name is a corruption of the folk moniker “day’s eye,” from the flower’s habit of closing at night and opening to the sun. The daisy represents good cheer and playfulness, and since time immemorial has provided children a ready material for springtime garlands and “loves me, loves me not” games.
“National Geographic Daily News”; April Fools' Day Mystery: How Did It Originate?; Graeme Stemp-Morlock; March 28, 2008
History.com: Easter Symbols
Arbor Day Foundation
Earth Day Network: Earth Day - The History of a Movement
Arbor Day stamp in public domain
Redbud photo by Dave Govoni
French April Fool postcard from Vintage Lulu
April flowers by StoneHorse Studios
Easter rabbit print in public domain
Arbor Day graphic in public domain
Earth Day graphic in public domain
Diamond photo by afternoon_sunlight
Sweet pea photo by moizissimo
Daisy photo by kkimpel